Dreamer’s Cantata – A New Revue (Stage 11, Varscona Theatre)
By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
What would we do without the Plain Janes?
In addition to their excavations in the corners of the musical theatre repertoire where the forgotten or neglected, the over-produced or under- appreciated are gathering dust, this indie theatre company seeks out the new, the hip, the innovative. And we’re the beneficiaries.
For this new revue, they’ve sought out witty, challenging work from contemporary musical theatre songwriters who are all women or gender non-conforming. Some names we know, others not (I speak for myself here on the ‘not’). And in the selection they’ve curated, linked by wispy dreamer’s logic, characters dream of the free-floating possibilities that can change a life. Some are hopeful but wary, or ambivalent, Others unleash full-throttle yearning, or rueful consideration of the gap between the dream and the Monday morning reality.
Some dreamers, as we’re told in the narrative (by Ellen Chorley) are visionaries or fantasizers, others are shit-disturbers, or off-centre thinkers who see things from unexpected angles. Or they’re just plain out to lunch.
A revue is a particular kind of challenge: lifting a song off its original moorings in a musical and leaving it to the actor to make it live. A quartet of strong singers, including Larissa Poho who plays violin and ukulele and pianist Steven Greenfield, really know how to deliver them. Bella King sings Georgia Stitt’s The Wanting of You, from her Alphabet City Cycle, with such expressive force it makes your eyes water. “I wear it everywhere I go/ Just like a coat that doesn’t know/ That it’s supposed to keep me warm.”
Alanna McPherson bites into Stitt’s Blanket in July, the fury of a woman passed over, harboring tigerish thoughts, in a witty set of images, about her rival: “She is your great Aunt’s mildewed fur! She is the dashboard with a ding….”
Poho has a fine time with Shaina Taub’s sassy shrug of a love song Might As Well. “Do you know you spend seven years of your life in the bathroom…. so I might as well spend some of the time with you…”). And Greenfield, from the keyboard, tucks into The Red Queen from Elizabeth Swados’s Alice in Concert. “Time to purge,” he sings on the subject of life clutter. “Off with their head!”
There’s a lyrical song about roots (Sing Me Home) by Edmonton jazz artist Mallory Chipman, beautifully delivered by Poho. Waitress, by the surprising singer-songwriter Sarah Bareilles, serves up two high-contrast songs. King does a killer version of When He Sees Me, a captivating song about the fear of stepping outside the carapace of solitude to take a chance on love. And McPherson’s version of What Baking Can Do, a witty double-entendre of a song about setting forth your secret ingredients but disguised and with the edges crimped, is a delight.
I loved the fun of Freedom from The Mad Ones — girls out on the open road driving, no destination, no map, car windows down, singing loud — delivered by a spirited trio.
There’s a downside to revues, of course. When you get to discover songs this unusual and smart, you become a dreamer, too. They leave you wanting the whole musical.